- The Final Stint - Austrian Grand Prix
Mercedes flatters to deceive
As Mercedes returned to winning ways at Red Bull's not-so-glorious homecoming, ESPN's Final Stint rounds up the main talking points from another thrilling weekend.
- Austrian Grand Prix
Normal service resumed
After letting the Canadian Grand Prix slip through its fingers so spectacularly, Austria was a chance for Mercedes to get back to winning ways. But Williams had not read the script on Saturday, audaciously locking out the front row and setting up the possibility of a duel with Mercedes for the victory. As it turned out, however, it was not to be. Nico Rosberg's comments after the race were the most telling; the race turned out "exactly" as he expected, the German patiently waiting to pass the Williams drivers at the first pit stop and then turning in a measured drive for victory.
In truth Valtteri Bottas made proceedings interesting during the middle stint, but it soon became clear Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton were both saving fuel and looking after their brakes. On the supersoft tyre Williams had closed the gap significantly but it is still clear no team is close to legitimately challenging Mercedes for victory over a race distance just yet. Felipe Massa's popular pole will be encouraging to Williams with Silverstone to come, but Spielberg only served to show how far back the likes of Red Bull and Ferrari still are from the Silver Arrows out in front. NS
It's Checo time
For all the plaudits Nico Hulkenberg has received at Force India this season for his remarkable consistency, it would not be fair to ignore Sergio Perez at this stage after his drives in Canada and Austria. Though a question-mark remains over his culpability in his last-lap collision with Felipe Massa in Montreal, his drive to that point was worthy of a podium finish. His subsequent penalty meant Perez was always facing an uphill battle for a podium in Austria but he once again excelled, doing a huge first stint on the soft tyre, leading the race, setting the fastest lap and then passing Kevin Magnussen at the death for a hugely-deserved sixth place. As he said post-race, that grid penalty may well have cost him third.
It is not an overstatement to say Perez's season at McLaren last year badly damaged his reputation, leaving him on the verge of quitting F1 before Vijay Mallya intervened. In the last two races, and in Bahrain earlier this season, we have seen the Perez we came to know at Sauber. Though his performances still have something of a Jekyll and Hyde feel to them Perez is doing a great job to remind everyone why McLaren took a punt on him in the first place. NS
A ticking time bomb
Red Bull's patience with Renault is running out. Christian Horner made that much clear after the public humiliation his team received at its home race. "The reliability is unacceptable. The performance is unacceptable. There needs to be change at Renault, it can't continue like this," he said after the race. Such comments will do nothing for the Anglo-Franco relationship at the heart of Red Bull's problems this year, which is unfortunate as the engine-chassis partnership is exactly what is powering Mercedes to success.
The new V6 turbo power units are such an integral part of performance this year that teams can no longer see themselves as mere chassis manufacturers if they want to compete with the might of the Mercedes works team. With an increasingly toxic relationship between Red Bull and Renault, is it any wonder that the hottest rumour in the paddock this weekend revolved around Red Bull making its own engines from 2016? LE
The Austrian Grand Prix perfectly encapsulated the sort of duel we have for the world championship. Out in front, the cool and calculated Nico Rosberg looked patient and managed every phase of the race as he needed to. Behind, Lewis Hamilton put in what Toto Wolff described as a "typical dynamic drive", with his flying first lap a rare sight in Formula One these days. With the car he had at his disposal Hamilton could have been excused for going conservative in the early stages but he drove in the fashion that he has always been known and revered for. But that said, the situation was all of Hamilton's making, his spin in qualifying probably costing him victory when you look at his race pace compared to Rosberg.
Hamilton's approach may win him fans but over a 19-race championship Rosberg is arguably better equipped to win the championship, especially in a car which may well guarantee him a podium finish at every remaining round this season. But despite some pundits suggesting the 29-point lead Rosberg has now amassed over Hamilton could be unassailable it is worth noting Sebastian Vettel was 42 points behind Fernando Alonso with fewer races remaining in 2012. If there is any man on the grid who can keep a title fight alive it is Hamilton, who himself said he relishes the role of the "hunter", and what better place to start his fightback than on home soil at Silverstone.NS
The hills were alive
Although the Red Bull Ring isn't a 'new' circuit to Formula One, it has raised the bar for all new venues hoping to join the calendar in coming years. Somehow F1 in Austria just feels right. The beautiful countryside, fast track and excellent facilities help, but above all it has an incredible atmosphere. More than 100,000 fans turned up on race day - many of which camped for the weekend in nearby fields - and most of those tickets were snapped up within 36 hours of going on sale. General admission areas afforded views across the circuit and the hordes of spectators up on the grassy hillsides gave the venue a vibe that wouldn't feel out of place at Glastonbury Festival. However, the track's surroundings are so pristine it feels more like a theme park than a motor racing circuit, and Red Bull managed to fill it with action from morning to evening. What's more, the venue has genuine history which is brought to life as you stumble across the lasting remains of the original Osterreichring beyond the run-off area of Turn 1. Perhaps the only criticism is that Red Bull did not resurrect Hella-Licht and opening section of the original track. That really would have been fantasy Formula One.LE